I saw a shag on Fluke Street the other day and another on the loch at the end of the street. This is actually unusual despite the name. With up to 200,000 birds on a small island you might think that they just go everywhere and are all completely mixed up but actually they are incredibly well segregated and very specific in where each species is found. The 1200 adult shags have very set areas of the island where they carry out their daily routines of nesting, feeding, roosting and have set flight lines that they use to move from one area to another and Fluke Street isn’t one of them. People arriving on the Isle of May view things from a human level height and are automatically drawn to features that suit us e.g. paths and tracks that are flat, level and dry, buildings, seats etc. Birds have a very different view of the island. Firstly they are either flying or are closer to the ground than us. Then they will be drawn to very different features to use such as types of vegetation, aspect, topography, wetness, standing water, prevailing winds, air currents and proximity of other birds, both their species and others. Each type of birds will have a different range of features that attract its attention so while razorbills are a bit anti-social and like a bit of distance between themselves and other pairs, guillemots will nest a few inches away from each other. Fulmers use the top of the cliffs so they have easy access by using the air currents while puffins need earth to burrow in but also space to take a long run up to take off. These species will be able to instantly assess the topography for its affects on air currents, potential for nesting or where food is available.
Migrants birds all have different views of the island and so are drawn to different parts and features as well. Short-eared owls nearly always turn up in the longer grass of the kettle or by St. Andrews Well while wheatears need shorter grass so they can see their food so are usually seen on the West Braes and the top of the island. Grasshopper warblers if anywhere on the island are in a wet, plant filled ditch next to the track going north from the Mainlight. Golden plovers will invariably seen with 100 yards of the top of the island. Bizarrely the only birds we have ever found in the well at Pilgrims Haven have been common redstart on 2 different seasons.
Even the gannets that don’t breed or use the island have set patterns. They never fly over the island but around it and it is actually island lore that something bad will happen if a gannet is seen over the island. So when you next visit the island or anywhere else for that matter why not try to view it through the eyes of a bird, just pick a species and then imagine the island as it would have to fit in with their requirements.
P.S. And typically, just before I was going to post this we have just found a guillemot in the vege garden, stuck in the rabbit fenced area and unable to fly out….now that really was way, way off course but not many people can have one for their garden list !